CINDERS, ASHES, DUST
For the first time I saw a look of surprise on Bradbury's face. He shouted, "How did you get in here?!"
"I know every inch of your kingdom, father," Alexandra said, "including the secret passages."
"No, I mean...Crown told me that you were being held elsewhere!"
"And I would have stayed there if Crown had done the actual watching. His men, however, do not have his keen eyes."
She had been walking toward the table as she spoke. She stopped next to Crown. She looked down at him through her dark glasses. He had stopped laughing.
Then she turned back to Bradbury and the Nobles. "You will withdraw this ridiculous idea of yours, father. Jacob will not work for the Tower."
Bradbury got over his surprise and resumed his usual weary look. "Alexandra, this is not your..."
I don't think there's a man alive who would have disobeyed her. That fantastic voice was as skilled with anger as it was with pathos. Alexandra spoke like a queen who had your head on the chopping block.
"You will let Jacob go," she continued in a voice softer but no less commanding. "You will forget about him. You will let him and the people of the Tunnels live in peace."
The Senator's indignation overcame his fear. "Now wait a damn minute. You have no right to come here and tell any of us..."
"I am Alexandra Bradbury," she hissed. "You are a bastard who should be skinned and quartered by the people of your state."
That shut him up. She addressed the others, "I am also the one whose gift you wish to use. If you want to be prepared for the next 9/11...or something worse...then you will do as I say."
The Nobles looked at Bradbury. He was the Unseen King, right? He wasn't going to let his own daughter boss them around, right?
Bradbury cleared his throat. "Daughter...I love you. And, yes, the Tower will benefit from your gift. But you have no real power over us."
"Wrong, father." I heard something new in Alexandra's voice. It was...nasty. "I have more than you imagine."
She pulled back her hood and reached for her glasses. "You fear death?" she said to the Nobles. "Then know this..."
She threw off her glasses. They slid across the floor and stopped at my feet.
Then she yanked the scarves off her face, tearing them apart with one pull.
The Nobles screamed, bounced off their chairs, scurried backwards. I realized that only three people had seen Alexandra's true face -- Bradbury, Crown and me. Her father had hidden her well.
It wasn't just her face that frightened them, though. It was the pleasure she took in their fright.
I was frightened, too. Bradbury gripped the back of his chair. Crown stared up at her in astonishment. He kept on staring as she knelt next to him and grabbed the back of his hair.
"I am death," she growled and opened her mouth wide. Fangs...
God help me, her top two incisors stretched out into fangs. And, God help us all, she bit into Crown's neck.
The man who had trained himself to the perfection of self-defense was helpless. I had done my part by confronting him with his fear. And now she was overwhelming him with it. He had known her face, but not her darkness. To him Alexandra had just been the freak girl locked away in her room. Now she was tearing open his throat. All of his survival instincts were forgotten in the flow of terror.
Should I have stopped her? I had enough perspective then to know what she was doing. And I had enough shock to stay still. Looking back at it from this point I say...
No. There's no point in saying anything.
When she was done she let Crown fall to the floor. She stood up straight and licked the blood on her lips. With her red eyes blazing, she said, "I am the daughter of the Unseen King. One day I shall take my place on my father's chair. And I will keep the High Tower safer than it has ever been.
"Until then my father is the leader. I will respect his wishes, but not on this. Jacob will go back to the Tunnels. And..." She glared at each and every Noble. "...our relationship is...none...of...your...goddamned...business."
She bared her fangs. "Now go."
You know, somebody could have shot her right then. They could have grabbed Crown's gun or used their own guns. You, my reader, would argue that the Nobles surely would have thought of that.
You weren't there. You didn't have to look into those red eyes or hear that voice or see those fangs.
Trust me, the Nobles got out of there quick. They would have gotten out of there quicker, but they jammed up the door temporarily in their collective rush.
Then there were only three living people and one dead body in the loft. Two of the living were watching the third with the bloody mouth. As she looked back at them the rage slowly departed from her features. Her fangs pulled themselves back into her gums. Her face became downcast as if she was expecting to be struck.
Bradbury slowly walked around the table and toward his daughter. He stood before her while keeping his hands in his pockets.
Then he placed his hands on her shoulders and kissed her forehead. He gently turned her toward the door and began to lead her away from me.
Just as gently she pulled away from him and looked at me. I just kept still, feeling like I might grow roots on the spot where I stood.
"'Ah, sir,'" she said, "'my liege Lord, and my love...
"'Shall I accuse the hidden cruel fate,
"'And mighty causes wrought in heaven above,
"'Or the blind God that doth me thus amate,
"'For hoped love to win me certain hate?'"
Those were her final words before she joined her father and left me.
I was alone with the dead man. I watched the red puddle under his neck widen. When it had grown a couple of inches, I said out loud --
"Spenser. That wasn't Keats. It was Edmund Spenser she quoted." I paused, then added in a halting voice, "I'm...I'm sure of it."
Crown had no reason to disagree.